You’ve got your leggings, your sports bra, your sneakers, and a hair tie. You’re ready to work out, right? Actually, you’re missing one crucial ingredient: food. What you eat before a workout is important. If you’re going to put the machine that is your body through the paces, you want to fuel it first with proper nutrition. And did you know that what you eat after a workout is really important, too? Indeed, re-fueling after exercise gives your body what it needs to recover from the exertion and build bigger, stronger muscles. That means being thoughtful about what you eat before and after exercising will help you maximize the benefits of all your hard work at the gym. And, no, I’m not talking about pre-workout supplements, I’m talking about real, delicious meals and snacks. The kind of things you would enjoy anyway—and will enjoy even more when you know they’re helping you reach your fitness goals.
As a registered dietitian, here are the top tips I give my patients regarding eating right both before and after your workout. Consider this part of your training plan.
What to eat before a workout:
I counsel my patients to eat before exercise because I think it will give them the best chance to get the most out of their workouts. Not eating enough before a workout can make you dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or lethargic. It can also make you more likely to injure yourself. And even if none of these things happens, skipping food can negatively impact your performance and reduce your gains.
But I know that realistically everyone won’t always have the time (or desire) to eat before a workout. On nights when you’re scrambling to get from the office to your favorite studio for that 6:00 P.M. class, it might feel impossible to squeeze in a snack on the way. And what do you do if you’re a morning workout person who doesn’t like to eat breakfast? (Psst: It’s fine to not eat breakfast every day, despite all that most important meal of the day talk.) The truth is, for most people it’s OK to workout on an empty stomach (I would not recommend doing that if you have blood sugar issues). So if you can’t even grab a protein bar, or the idea of forcing down a bite makes you want to gag, that’s all right. But ideally you should fuel up before you work up a sweat—and definitely, definitely drink water before, during, and after. Here’s how to fuel up right.